COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and inside out. People with new puppies are told the first several months of socialization for a puppy are critical if they want a well adjusted puppy. However with the current pandemic people have been asked to socially distance, dog parks have closed and people are wary of petting a dog they see on the street for fear of possibly passing COVID from their hands to the puppies fur to the owner or vice versa.

Not surprisingly for puppy owners, they are wondering how their dogs will learn to socialize and be well adjusted amongst people and other dogs in this current COVID-19 world.

The good news is that your puppy will still be able to get all the exposure he needs and will turn out just fine. First let’s look at some of the key goals of socialization:

  1. Expose your dog to a wide variety of noises, smells, situations, people and animals so he gets comfortable with the world and people around him.
  2. Expose him to people and other dogs with the goal so he learn how to behave properly in these situations.

If you look at the above two points, just taking your puppy out for lots of walks will achieve these goals and with all of us spending more time at home, we should have no problem finding the time to walk our dogs.

The goal of the walks is to exposure your puppy to different situations. Take him to different places and be out at different times to vary the exposure. Take him out where he may see, hear and smell a passing dog, a cyclist, a squirrel, people of different sizes and gender, a bus, the beep of a cross walk. Take him for a walk along a quiet residential street and on another day walk along the sidewalk of a busier thoroughfare. Take your puppy out when it’s windy and take him out when it’s raining. Plan on being outside at 7pm with your puppy when everyone is out making noise and saluting our health care workers. Join in the celebration and make some noise while you are out with your puppy. Even if your neighbours are not currently petting your puppy, have them stop and talk to him. Your puppy will pick up on the friendly vibes. When you are passing another dog, keep your social distance from the other owner, but keep the leash relaxed and allow your puppy a passing sniff of the other dog.

A good point to remember is that the point of socialization is exposure, not interaction. Puppies do not have to interact with things, animals and people to learn from it. Hearing, smelling and seeing the tall man with a hat from 6 or more feet away will be equally as valuable as that same man coming over and petting your dog.

I would argue that puppies learning from this COVID-19 environment may actually become the better mannered dogs at the end of this. Far too often I see the over socialized, over stimulated dogs that lose their minds when they see other dogs and people. They are the dogs that we see dragging their owners towards other dogs because they have been over-socialized at dog parks as a puppy.  Or they are the dogs that jump on people when they see them because they have received so much hands on attention from people in puppyhood and have learned that all people must love them and need a lick on the face.

Instead, these puppies will learn to pass people and other dogs with a quick sniff and a tail wag. Don’t worry, dogs are innately social creatures. When they finally are given the chance to romp around with another dog, they will have already learned to greet politely and the play will come naturally.

Lastly if you find yourself in a situation where you have to be in isolation in your home with your new puppy, don’t fret. We just need to be a little extra creative.

Remember the point of socialization is to expose your puppy to new situations:

  • ring the doorbell
  • put on a hat
  • open the window at 7pm at let in the noise
  • turn on the television at different volumes
  • bounce a ball in the house
  • chop carrots
  • vacuum
  • sweep
  • do jumping jacks
  • walk loudly
  • slide around the house in your socks
  • approach your puppy in a crawl
  • The ideas are endless.

Stay healthy and congratulations on your new puppy.

Dr. Loretta Yuen D.V.M

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